|By Brett Weiss
CHICAGO, Ill. — To help celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist, widely acknowledged as one of the scariest movies ever made, Linda Blair will appear at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, running Aug. 8-11 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Blair, who played Regan MacNeil, the demon-possessed child in the film, will sign autographs and posing for pictures with fans.
Directed by William Friedkin from a screenplay by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the original 1971 novel, The Exorcist was released by Warner Bros. on Dec. 26, 1973. The film stunned viewers with its explicit, head-spinning content, which included a horribly scarred Regan spitting bile, cursing violently and defiling herself with a crucifix.
When traditional methods fail to cure Regan of her baffling affliction, her mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), turns to the Catholic Church for help, specifically the exorcism powers of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow).
The Exorcist – the first horror movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture – released to divided opinions among the leadership of the Catholic Church. Some were appalled by the movie’s grotesque imagery and bad language while others appreciated the way it took demon possession seriously.
Critics at the time were divided, as well, with some hailing its artistic brilliance and others dismissing it as “claptrap,” “religious porn” or a “piece of schlock.”
Progressive horror film fans were largely united in their praise of the movie. Joe Dante of Castle Frankenstein called it “an amazing film, and one destined to become at the very least a horror classic.” Most film critics from the last 20 years appreciate the film, at least, on a historic level.
According to Terror on Tape, 1994, Billboard Books by James O’Neill, “This enormously influential movie single-handedly changed the genre forever, bringing critical respectability and wide audience acceptance to horror films while at the same time all but crushing the low-budget (mostly British) horror film industry of Hammer, Amicus and AIP and creating an all-too-quickly boring repetitive new subgenre: the devil-possession pic.”
The Exorcist inspired several sequels, including Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), which was directed by John Boorman and starred Blair and Richard Burton, and The Exorcist III (1990), which was directed by Blatty and starred George C. Scott.
The Exorcist wasn’t a heavily merchandised film, but there are many collectibles related to the book and film. A recent search of completed eBay auctions found:
•Lettered edition of the novel published by Cemetery Dance in 2010 ($500, near mint)
•First edition copy of the novel signed by Linda Blair ($295, very good)
•Unsigned first edition copy of the novel ($150, very good)
•First-issue original movie poster ($255, near mint)
•CGC-graded MAD magazine No. 170 with Exorcist movie spoof cover ($99.95, near mint)
•Australian daybill movie poster ($64, very good)
•Deluxe Dehoce Regan Mask ($49.95)
•5 inch by 25 inch movie theater mylar ($31)
•Cult Classic Regan Spider Walk action figure ($29.99 in the package)
•Original Exorcist II: The Heretic movie poster ($19.99, very good)
•Color reproduction of the shooting script ($15.95, near mint)
Proceeds from Blair’s appearance at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con will benefit the Linda Blair World Heart Foundation, which advocates the rescue and adoption of animals.
In a recent interview with fangoria.com, Blair reveals that she was about to leave the acting biz to take care of animals when she landed the part that made her famous. “I was a working child actress, acting in commercials and modeling, and I was approaching maybe 12 years old and I wanted to follow my dream, which was to become a veterinarian,” she said. “So I was going to quit the so-called ’acting.’”
Fortunately for fans of the film, Blair accepted the role and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Now, 40 years later, Blair focuses more on the welfare of animals than her film career, but she remains humbled and honored by the acclaim she continues to receive for her portrayal of the demon-possessed girl.
In the fangoria.com interview, she said, “It was strictly a character that was created through special effects, through makeup, through the structure of the screenplay, and the lighting, cinematography and of course all the acting with such amazing actors, Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller.”